As we age, it becomes even more important to be kind to ourselves emotionally and physically. Physical healing, as we age, generally takes longer and emotional healing depends on whether we have been holding or processing our feelings and experiences ongoing. When we hold feelings, we have more than the current situation to process. Whether we take the opportunity to process ALL of our feelings is up to us. As situations arise in the present, it is best for our emotional and physical well-being to process our feelings about the current situation and of our history the current situation is triggering.
It has been a few weeks since my last blog due to a thumb and wrist injury that resulted from a fall at the cottage. Exercising self care has helped the healing process.
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I remember thinking at age 32, “how is going back to painful life experiences going to help me have a better quality of life today?”. It wasn’t easy in the beginning to believe that this could actually make a difference in my life, I thought “why should I get into all my pain without any guaranteed result?”. But I was unhappy and decided to take a leap of faith.
It was not always easy to keep faith in the process when I was experiencing challenging, painful and darker feelings —like feelings of not being loveable or worthlessness and despair. But finally, after months of enduring the process of releasing my pain, I began to feel a shift from within myself… and gradually started to feel better. Lighter. Happier. Clearer. More at peace with myself.
What I learned is that feeling is an active process that requires a courageous willingness to live our experiences right through to completion. This means staying with our feelings (even the immensely difficult ones) until they are truly done and having faith that you will heal.
Be authentic. Feel the heartbreak and anger; feel all of your feelings. Ultimately, it brings you closer to your true self. If you had a cruel parent, move past your anger and feel into the heartbreak. If you lost a loved one, grieve the loss. There is a meaningful difference between intellectually understanding and emotionally processing your experiences. True healing occurs when we honour and value our feelings.
Like depression, anxiety is a common reason clients enter therapy. In Emotion Focused therapy, clients learn to go into their feelings of anxiety (when in their private space or in therapy) and consciously experience them and explore them at a deeper level in order to get to the root of feelings instead of push them away. It is difficult to do what we need for ourselves when we aren’t aware of what we are feeling and why we are feeling it. Holding onto feelings can result in heightening anxiety and/or depression which often can leave one feeling exhausted among many other body symptoms.
The first step is to name what you are feeling, and then as you can, stay with your feelings to process/experience them. Doing this is most likely NOT what you were taught growing up however, in my professional and personal experience, it is what is needed in order to experience true healing and lasting change.
If the feeling(s) you are experiencing are feelings that you have felt a lot in your life, it will take time to process them, especially feelings from earlier in life. Emotion Focused Therapy is not a quick fix, it is a long term fix. I recommend that you complete a timeline of your life (see website to download timeline). It is important for our well-being to feel all of our feelings today so we are not accumulating more emotional pain, and take back feelings as they emerge. Getting support from an Emotion Focused therapist can help to stay with and process difficult feelings as well as receive validation for them.
Are you wondering how your autobiography or timeline can help you in therapy?
Completing as much as you can of your autobiography or timeline can help you to reflect on life experiences that you’ve had and identify what you were feeling that did not get processed at the time. You may say to yourself, I don’t remember my childhood. Often as we open to ourselves and give ourselves permission, we begin to feel and remember. Another way of remembering is to look at photos of yourself and family members, talk to family members and/or lie down in a dark room and stay as open to your ‘self’ as you can and trust gut feelings that emerge. To access a timeline form on my website just click on the Resources tab and then the Downloads tab.
Identifying feelings helps to stay with and feel them through. Experiencing your feelings may take more than one time. It depends on the strength and length you experienced the feeling. Example: if in your timeline you identify that you have experienced at various ages – sadness – then there is sadness to feel until the intensity comes off of that feeling.
If you feel stuck in a feeling or feelings it is best to get support from an Emotion/Feeling Focused Therapist.
Depression occurs over time as feelings are repressed. Feelings are buried alive… meaning that at a cellular level, our body remembers all of our experiences and that is why we are driven unconsciously by our feelings when we do not want to be. As Dr. Arthur Janov explains in a paper on the nature of depression that depression is another form of repression, it is not a separate disease (Live Real, 2015). Therefore it is best to treat the repression and that is why I have my clients fill out a timeline.
It has been my experience with clients over the last decade as well as my own therapy that once we can bring into consciousness, unconscious repressed pain, healing begins. This is not a quick fix, it takes time for the client to open to and heal pain at higher levels from today and then go back as they connect to earlier pain experiences. Perhaps it is helpful to think of depression as a blanket that is covering our primary feelings such as worthlessness, helplessness and feeling unlovable. Our body gives us opportunity through our over and under reactions to access our unresolved, repressed pain. As we become aware of our pain and what it means, with support and safety we can begin to feel and heal and experience more clarity and peace within.
The statistics, according to Health Canada for clinical and major depression is almost one in 8 adults (PHAC, 2015).
If we were accustomed to being listened to and our feelings validated and attended to as children, it is likely easier for us to have self-care. If we weren’t used to being listened to and our feelings and needs validated and attended to as children, it is likely more challenging to give ourselves the self-care that we need as adults. In my own life, I work at this daily and at times it feels like a lot of work yet I am aware of the importance of doing so for my physical and emotional health.
Awareness of what we need along with making good choices for ourselves is key to our well-being. –Emotional care- such as allowing ourselves room to feel our feelings and giving ourselves permission to feel our truth. -Physical care– such as exercising, eating healthy, drinking water, sleeping and resting –Social care– such as having the right balance of work, hobbies and interests and social/emotional connection with family/friends.
The choices we make with respect to all areas of our lives, significantly impacts our emotional and physical health. Self-Care, one step at a time…
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Are you being real and true to yourself? Are you expressing to others what you feel inside?
If the answer is no, the first step is to notice what you are feeling and what you are saying to others. The second step is to open to your feelings and name them and take ownership that these are your feelings. Example: I feel afraid. The third step is to stay with your feelings and notice where you are feeling them in your body. Example: Heaviness in the chest or stiff shoulders as if there is a weight on them. The fourth and last step is to express and explore these feelings deeper. Example: Ask yourself why am I afraid to express what I really feel to others? Express these feelings perhaps by writing them in a journal or have a conversation out loud in your own private space. Doing this will help to be more real and true to yourself. There is a cost to the ‘self’ when we are not congruent with our feelings.
Our defenses are an indication of emotional pain that lies beneath. It is a cue that there is something for us to feel and heal. Our defenses saved us as children growing up however they work against us as adults. Respecting our defenses and in our own time feel our pain that has been buried deep within, will allow us to heal so that we are no longer driven by this pain. Feeling through our feelings allows us to live more freely as adults in the present.
What did we need as children to have a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem?
- Permission and support to FEEL – “we are feeling beings”
- Love and attention
- Holding, nurturance and affection
- Acceptance and encouragement
- Empathy and understanding
- Gentle guidance
- Realistic limits
- Trust with your physical and emotional safety
Consider looking at photos of yourself and family members. Look at the expression on your face and on their faces. Ask yourself what you were feeling, perhaps what they were feeling. It can help to look at photos to get a clearer picture of what you experienced as an infant, child and teen.
When our needs are not met as children, we have unconscious adult pain. It is our responsibility as adults to heal what we did not get that has wounded us as children.
The Healing is in the Feeling
In my teens and early twenties, I remember feeling a low grade of flatness and numbness and had difficultly feeling happiness inside and did not know what to do about this.
I began to read self-help books. Some books helped to a certain degree but for the most part I felt stuck in these feelings even though I was moving on in life. It wasn’t until my father died suddenly when I was seven months pregnant that I went to therapy. I was in shock and felt a deep loss and sadness. It took a year before I found the right therapist. Actually, I joined an eight week women’s support group where we were encouraged to share with the group what we were feeling. The therapist/facilitator listened empathically to each of us and took the lead in validating our feelings and experiences. It was a new concept for me. Feelings were not validated or spoken about in my family growing up. It was in that circle, with women who were being real with their feelings and me with mine that I felt ‘heard’ and my ‘feelings validated’ for the first time in my life. I remember feeling this is where I need to be. It felt right.
I entered therapy after the support group ended with that therapist. Early on in my therapy, I learned that it wasn’t enough to intellectually know what happened to me, it was important that I feel through unfelt feelings that had been stored in my body in order to heal. This was, at times not easy to do… bringing to the surface emotional pain that had been buried throughout my life to be felt and integrated within.
Truly the healing is in the feeling. It bears mentioning again that it is not enough to know what happened to us, for true healing to occur we must allow our bodies to finish the unfelt feelings of our childhood wounds that get in our way of feeling happiness, clarity and contentment today.